Friday, July 9, 2010

Writing as an Art—March to the Beat

Do you ever read aloud from a favorite book? Or does a particularly poignant or empowering passage or poem inspire you to verbally articulate its content?

All good writing possesses a rhythm—a beat—that sets the tone for the action, the scene, the discussion. A competent writer “hears” it and uses it to reach out and touch the reader. He or she creates the rhythm, puts it in place, and marches to the beat. The reader follows along behind.

Have you ever listened—I mean really listened—to a great drummer? Drums do a lot more than make ear-splitting noise. Drum solos can express a variety of emotions from the gentleness of a summer breeze (using the brushes) to waves lapping on the shore or a jog through the park (the sticks) to the power of a thunderstorm (the deep resonance of the bass). Morse code messages can be tapped out on the rim and worked into an overall piece. The rhythm can inspire an entire dance without the benefit of any other instrument. The snare, high hat, cymbals, and bass all communicate with the listener, creating different emotions, different moods, different mental pictures, depending on the drummer’s intent and the listener’s experience.

How does this relate to writing? The same freedom the drummer employs to express himself through percussion, the writer uses to create a word picture, first for himself and then for his readers. Why him- or herself first? Writing is an extension of self. What we cannot imagine, we cannot write. Is this not true? Who we are comes through in our characters—our dark sides as well as our brighter ones. Whatever our passions, our loves, our fears, our hatreds, our experiences, we reveal them in some fashion through our stories and our characters. Then the rhythm of our words creates a work—gentle, powerful, fierce, compelling. Our emotions determine the beat. Is it jazz? rock? rap? ballad? symphony? a combination of these or other forms? Whatever it may be, we want our readers to listen to the rhythm and march to the beat. That’s what makes them want to buy our next book.

How do you use rhythm in your writing? When proofing a draft, do you know when you’ve missed a beat? when the story ceases to flow? when the rhythm is off? when the reader no longer marches to the beat? Please tell us how you handle these writing bumps in the road.
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Linda Lane, owner of Pen & Sword Publishers Ltd., writes novels and edits books. Learn more about her at www.DenverEditor.com.

13 comments :

  1. Hi Linda, I just posted about this in the past week. I used a quote from Virginia Woolf who thought that rhythm was everything. I think this is what is really the writer's voice - the way we know from one line whether it is Vonnegut or Twain, Drabble or Ondaatje. Woolf suggests that a writer needs to wait for the rhymthm to come to her at every juncture - at every point in which we stop moving forward. And if we find the rhythm we'll know where the story goes off track because the rhythm will tell us. I think this is so brilliant and thanks for going farther with it.

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  2. Very true.
    You *know* when the rhythm is off. Sometimes I can't even move on when the rhythm is off--the infamous 'writer's block.'

    Giggles and Guns

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  3. And the drum beat in a song can go from quiet to loud, from rhythmic to wild and seemingly out of control. Which, of course, relates to writing and the different beats of your work.

    Great post.

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  4. Thanks, Linda, that's why I believe the best writing is fast writing, when you aren't belaboring over each word. Now, you can and should tweak later but once you have that original beat, you can build on it.

    Scott Nicholson
    http://www.hauntedcomputer.com

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  5. Jan, I agree with you, this rhythm is the voice. This is a great reminder of the importance of paying attention to that unique rhythm we all have.

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  6. I love the drummer analogy. It fits so well and is so true. Often I'll read aloud what I've written when I begin the editing process. It helps me find the correct words.

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  7. So true! One reason I like to read my writing out loud is so I can get the rhythm right. Thanks for summing it up so nicely!

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  8. As an author, playwright, and occasional drummer (soloist) I love reading insightful tips. Thank you! I'm subscribing right now.

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  9. Also. . . Did I mention I write plays?

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  10. Thanks, Linda. You've obviously hit a high note with this post! :)

    Dani

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  11. Amen, Linda! Often students will come to me when there is a piece of literature they don't understand or can't get into. I always encourage them to read some commentary then go back and read the lit. again. The words I use are, "Go back and read it again so you can enjoy the language and rhythm of the language."

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  12. Love this topic and love Jan Morrison's comment, too.

    I always say I write by ear. Sometimes listening to the minute rhythms of the words makes it harder to hear the larger elements of story though, and I'm having to teach myself to "look" for pacing before I "listen" for rhythm.

    Thanks for giving me more food for thought!

    Martina

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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